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Paint Fumes—Elijah von Cramon Interview

8 February 2023

(Photo by Blaine Hurdle)

Elijah von Cramon is a rock and roll lifer with the scars, psychic wounds and a great new album full of brokenhearted love songs to prove it.

A former booker of basement shows in Charlotte, North Carolina, von Cramon started playing guitar to battle anxiety and depression. A burst of creative energy led to the formation of his garage punk band Paint Fumes that was heavily influenced by New York punks like Ramones and Johnny Thunders, and LA blues punks The Gun Club, along with contemporaries like The King Khan & BBQ Show and Black Lips.

The Paint Fumes line up has been a revolving door over the past decade, but the original trio recorded their debut album, Uck Life (Slovenly Recordings, 2012), in five hours and hit the road in the U.S. and Europe. Then tragedy struck when von Cramon was hit by a truck crossing the street near his home and pronounced dead for five minutes.

Incredibly, von Cramon recovered and Paint Fumes went on to release two more albums, If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth A Huff (Get Hip, 2016) and What A World (Get Hip, 2019), in addition to a couple 7-inch EPs and singles. Various configurations of the band embarked on hardscrabble tours that found them literally slugging it out in clubs, occasionally visiting emergency rooms, getting their gear stolen in Barcelona, and barely getting out of Italy in March of 2020 as the first wave of COVID-19 spread.

Amidst all the chaos, it was von Cramon’s falling in love that led the band in an exciting new power pop direction on their latest album, Real Romancer. The line up on this impressive collection includes von Cramon (vocals/rhythm guitar), Joe Boyland (lead guitar), Nic Pugh (bass), and Josh Johnson (drums).

“During quarantine I had gotten in a very weird but amazing relationship with someone who had a massive effect on me. I was writing songs constantly for the year we were together. Basically love songs. That relationship came to an abrupt end and I was still writing songs, but more about the frustration of it all. So this record is a mix up of all those songs,” von Cramon said.

The result is an addictive mix of Paint Fumes’ core garage/punk sound embellished with some serious hooks. If you’re a fan of their current DIG! Records/Bachelor Records label mates, The Whiffs, and share von Cramon’s love of power pop legends like 20/20, Shoes and The Nerves, you’ll likely fall as hard for Real Romancer as I have.

I caught up with von Cramon by email as the band prepares for the album’s release, and upcoming U.S. and European tours.

Elijah von Cramon Interview

For readers new to Paint Fumes, can you tell us about the history of the band?

EvC: Paint Fumes first started with me learning how to play guitar in 2010 to help with all-day anxiety, all-day long panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. I wrote a few songs and recruited my good friends Brett (lead guitar at the time) and Marcel (drums at the time) to start a band. At the time I was also running a venue out of my dusty, grimy basement, Sewercide Mansion. We basically formed in the basement breathing in spray paint fumes and black mold.

I had bands from all over the world come to play in that basement. One of the bands was Acid Baby Jesus who were on Slovenly Recordings at the time. A few months after forming and playing multiple shows, Marcel left the band and Joshua Johnson joined the band. We had met after he had done a solo Pinche Gringo set with Paint Fumes opening the night. I thought he lived in Canada and asked him how much it would be to have him play at Sewercide and he responded with ‘I don’t know. maybe 20 bucks for gas.’ Turns out there isn’t a Greensboro, Canada, it was Greensboro, North Carolina, which was like an hour from my house.

We stayed up all night and morning blasting records and watching live MC5 videos. We became instant friends and he wanted to join the band immediately. From the point Josh joined, we recorded our first LP and sent it to Slovenly with the help of Acid Baby Jesus’s approval. We recorded it in five hours and sent it out an hour later. Within the hour, we were the newest addition to the Slovenly roster.

Your debut album, Uck Life, offers up raunchy, frantic garage punk. Who were some early influences?

EvC: My early influences are still huge influences for me to this day. I’m still obsessed with The Gun Club. I don’t know if it’s apparent on the record, but that definitely was and is in my top influences. That and lots of old garage rock, but also A LOT of Killed By Death comp style stuff. I nerd out over all the weirdo punk shit. And, of course, mainstays like Johnny Thunders, Dead Boys and the likes. Also bands that were current at the time were huge for me like Jacuzzi Boys, The King Khan & BBQ Show, Black Lips, Useless Eaters, shit like that. It was a really good time for music.

I definitely hear The Gun Club influence on your sound. How do you think your band’s songwriting evolved from your debut album to If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth A Huff and What A World?

EvC: So, here’s where things get kinda fucked. After the release of Uck Life things were going great and we had a lot of attention. We were booked to do a second full U.S. tour and then fly out to Europe for another month. Then the day before Valentines Day I was walking across the street to get a 40oz and I was hit by a truck going 40 mph.

I was pronounced dead for 5 minutes and somehow came back and was admitted to the ICU. My legs were a mangled mess and had severe head trauma. I had some surgeries and had to relearn how to walk. It was a whole shit storm and it definitely put a grinding halt on Paint Fumes.

As soon as I got outta the hospital I sat in my wheelchair for hours everyday doped outta my mind writing more and more songs. I couldn’t stop. With everything happening I was very depressed again and felt insane. Weirdly enough I had written “Puddle of Blood” before the accident, but the song rings true to the future events of my accident.

Next thing I know I’m recovered somewhat and we were Europe-bound again. Only a few months before leaving, me and Josh had a falling out and Brett wasn’t able to go to Europe. So I had to recruit Ian Rose and Ben Carr (of Personality Cult) to go with me. They stuck around in the band for the It Ain’t Worth a Huff era and we moved Ben to bass. We went to Puerto Rico to record the album and switched to Get Hip recordings. Then Josh and I made up, he was back in the band and we were back to the original trio again. Following that was a full U.S. tour with The King Khan & BBQ Show.

I came back to a failed relationship with my girlfriend at the time and full of frustration from Trump getting elected and the world turning to shit, as always. So we recorded What a World. Which was basically fueled by my breakup and the state of the world. I had no idea it could get worse with COVID-19 and stuff in the near future.

Real Romancer maintains all the elements of your previous releases but with a more pronounced power pop sheen. Was that by design?

EvC: Real Romancer is my favorite of our albums, hands down. During quarantine I had gotten in a very weird but amazing relationship with someone who had a massive effect on me. I was writing songs constantly for the year we were together. Basically love songs. That relationship came to an abrupt end and I was still writing songs, but more about the frustation of it all. So this record is a mix up of all those songs.

I think all of it really made me grow as a songwriter. I’ve always been a huge fan of power pop and over the years I have been listening to more power pop than punk, so I think it naturally kinda just happened. We did change band members again. After our last tour of Europe was cut short by COVID-19 and our van getting broken into in Barcelona, we came home to basically nothing, as a lot of people did. We barely made it out of Milan, Italy. I think we were the second to last car to get out of our border section before they closed the gates. Insane.

I was living with our now bass player, Nic Pugh. We took the quarantine time to work on the material I had been writing and make demos. Shortly after things became normal again, having fallen out of touch with Brett, we got our good friend Joe Boyland to play lead guitar and it was a perfect fit. He took all the shitty leads that I did in my demos and made them his own, but still leaving the stuff I liked in them. I’m really happy with our band and the members in it now. I think it’s the best line up yet. We also ventured to Atlanta to record the album with the amazing Dan Dixon. He really brought out the best in us! He is an amazing producer and we will absolutely keep working with him

(Photo by Puck Byrne)

I’m a sucker for poppy Real Romancer tracks like “Starting Over,” “Holding My Heart” and “Callin’ Out.” What’s the secret to writing a great pop hook?

EvC: Honestly, I don’t know the secret at all. I have found though that some of my favorite songs I have written have been from voice memos I recorded in bathroom stalls while working terrible jobs. I don’t know what it is. Ideas come at the strangest times. It’s gotta be catchy of course, something that stays with you for days.

There’s also some great guitar playing throughout the album, at times reminiscent of Johnny Ramone on mid-career Ramones albums and Bob Stinson on early Replacements records. Are those bands/guitarists influences?

EvC: Okay so, weirdly enough, I have never been a fan of The Replacements. I don’t know what it is. I just can’t get into it. BUT Ramones? Damn. Best band ever probably. HUGE influence on me and my bandmates I would say. Definitely Thin Lizzy too. Me and Joe are suckers for The Velvet Underground too.

I love all of those solos. This album has a lot of influences. I would say 20/20, Protex, Thin Lizzy, Ramones, Stiv Bators, Roxy Music, Buzzcocks, The Nerves and Shoes are all big influences. Sorry, that was a lot.

I’m a fan of The Whiffs, so I was thrilled that Dig! was releasing a new Paint Fumes album in a similar vein. Do you consider The Whiffs kindred spirits? Who are some of your other favorite modern bands?

EvC: The Whiffs are great! I’m so psyched to be label mates with them on DIG! and Bachelor! I think they are one of the best—if not the best—power pop bands out right now.

Some of my favorites are definitely RMBLR, Les Lullies have a great new single out, Ar-Kaics, Model Zero, Ravagers, Dirty Fences and Wyldlife. There are so many it’s hard to even begin naming them. Rock ‘n’ Roll is here to stay.

Charlotte is in an interesting time right now for bands. The punk scene is finally huge again thanks to our good friends Mutant Strain.

Any tours planned? How does your live show differ from the albums?

EvC: I think live is always a different beast than just the recordings, especially with us. But you will have to be the judge of that. We have a string of shows up the East Coast to NYC in March and then fly out to Europe for month. All in support of Real Romancer. We should have limited copies available for sale at shows while they last!

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